Voters throughout the nation made their voices heard last week as heated school board races dominated many local elections.
Deciding issues in many races included hot-button topics such as masking, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and other curriculum concerns.
Parents and concerned citizens sent a clear message about the need for change in education, with incumbents on many school boards being unseated in favor of fresh candidates promising to curb government and administrative overreach, support parental involvement, and clamp down on controversial curriculum.
An atypical surge in candidates and fundraising has been a common theme in many places around the country. One Ohio county, which saw a steady decline of candidates from 2001–2017, reported an increase this year: 140 candidates ran for 83 seats in 30 districts. In Pennsylvania, a bipartisan group known as “Back to School Pa” spent over $600,000 to support 208 candidates in 54 communities. Back to School Pa advocated for keeping in-person learning a priority regardless of changes in Covid numbers.
Curriculum was the dominant concern for many. In Kansas, stay-at-home mom Amy Cawvey won a seat on the Lansing Board of Education with a strong stance opposing Critical Race Theory. Cawvey moved to Lansing, near Kansas City, in 2016 and knew no one in the town. She gained support by knocking on thousands of doors, asking which issues concerned parents the most. The resounding answer was CRT. Two of her victorious running mates also took a similar stand.
Cawvey noted that the incumbents claimed CRT was not an issue because it was not officially part of Kansas education curriculum. She went on: “We know that that’s not true. We need to keep that out of our schools. I think that helped us win because parents are very concerned about it. They have a say in their children’s education and we showed that with the election.”
Andrew Yeager won a school board seat in Southlake, Texas, a wealthy suburb near Dallas. He campaigned heavily against CRT, as well. Yeager, who won 65% of the votes, emphasized the need for common-sense approaches to these divisive issues. His opponent took a different approach, issuing an “anti-racism” demand letter, advocating for the removal of resource officers from schools, and proposing that “micro-aggressions” be tracked. Yeager said those radical proposals weren’t attractive to voters, as the results proved.
In New Jersey’s Wayne Board of Education election, three candidates running on an ‘Education First’ platform unseated incumbent board members. The winners—Michael Fattal, Harry Prassakos, and Iveta Wentink—leveraged renewed parental interest in curriculum after a stretch of controversial issues popped up in their district.
Parents in the Wayne school district had recently spoken up over concerns regarding oversexualized materials in their school’s libraries, likening the material to pornography. Voters certainly aligned with the ‘back to basics’ approach of the ‘Education First’ campaign. “Parents were concerned about where their children’s education was heading…They didn’t like the direction,” Wentink said.
Elsewhere, dozens of recall efforts are underway to unseat incumbent school board members in the 23 states that allow it. The picture around the US is clear: parents have had enough and are making a concerted effort to get more involved and hold their local school boards accountable. Doubtless, the overarching issue on election day this year was education.